"All the programmes from our guest editors have been different. But this is probably the most different," said Mishal Husain , with a smile in her voice. She and Sarah Montague were Today's presenters on Thursday morning. Their boss for the day: PJ Harvey. Husain and Montague kept reminding listeners of Harvey's captaincy, of the singer's steering of the Today ship, mostly because almost every voice on Harvey's commissioned reports was political. Not a professional politician - we barely heard from one, hooray - but people interested in uncovering how our world is run. So we heard about the make-up of the UN security council (bit dull, that one), how banking truly works, about the vested interests in sport, how the UK sells arms to repressive regimes. That last report, by Mark Curtis , was so calmly delivered yet hard-hitting - the Queen hosts state dinners that put together the head of BAE with leaders of repressive regimes; the arms trade is worth pounds 22bn to the UK - that Today felt obliged to offer BAE the right to reply. Curtis's piece, along with a discussion about the British forces' interrogation (torture) techniques with Phil Shiner , Ian Cobain and John Humphrys , were the highlights for me; though the musical contributions - Tom Waits's Strange Weather, for instance - and Ralph Fiennes gravely reading Woody Guthrie ("Good hand and bad hand/Ticky ticky tock") before the news were equally bracing in a different way. The BBC's original announcement about Today's guest editors for this year (the others were world wide web founder Tim Berners-Lee ; Eliza Manningham-Buller , the former head of MI5; Antony Jenkins , CEO of Barclays ; and Michael Palin , who needs no introduction) said that the programmes would all be done by the end of 2013. And so they were, except Harvey's. (As an aside, they all had their own highlights: Palin's was his visit to Ethiopia and Alan Bennett's reading of the shipping forecast; Manningham-Buller's was a discussion between her and Judi Dench ; Jenkins's was when he seemed to admit that bankers needed to do more to win back our confidence.) Still, it seemed fitting that Harvey's was withheld until the first working day of 2014. Over Christmas, as over all holiday times, it was as though there wasn't any news: just froth about Christmas sales, flooding, train fares, football, cricket. Harvey's editorship highlighted how our most important news stories are more than long tail; they are historical. In a statement about her editorship, Harvey said that she wanted to highlight "people who challenge us and move us to examine our deepest beliefs and feelings". Her last, Mercury prize-winning album, Let England Shake, was about the UK's involvement in war; many of her chosen speakers seemed to spring from her research into this. She made the Today editors agree not to edit their contributions. Responses were mixed. Many people on Twitter were upset that she seemed to be "bashing Britain ", and I could have done without WikiLeaks' Julian Assange preaching about openness of information. John Pilger , whose documentaries I admire, was a bit ranty. The reports and poems were much stronger than the solo pontification slots. What the show was about, in the end, was bias. The BBC is bound by its remit to present a balanced view. This is both its strength and its weakness. BBC balance means that all sides are heard, but it also leads to pointless adversarial argument, the splutter and noise of two contrary interests shouting over one another (the sound of every usual Today programme). It also leads to conservative editing, to red pencilling the strong stuff for fear of partiality. And sometimes it leads to the wrong story being reported. Harvey, by grappling with the tricky questions, by examining the long-term bigger stories, rather than the immediate little ones, brought a fresh angle to our news. Whether or not we enjoyed it, the effect was as exhilarating as a dip in the ocean on New Year's Day . Captions: PJ Harvey, guest editor of Thursday's Today programme: 'grappling with the tricky questions'.
Most Popular Stories
- Crimean Referendum Violates International Law: Obama
- BP Tripled CEO's Pay Despite Deepwater Horizon
- EU Breaks Off Talks With Russia
- Putin Gets Thumbs-up From Assad
- House OKs $1 Billion for Ukraine
- Nakamoto 'No Longer Involved' in Bitcoin
- Where Are the World's Most Expensive Cities?
- Cuba Accepts Invite for Talks With EU
- Disney Lays Off 700 From Interactive Unit
- Florida Insurers Reach Out to Hispanics